ORG: Table revised Fiscal Responsibility Bill before Summer Recess
By Organization for Responsible Governance
(Jul 10, 2018)NASSAU, New Providence – “The implementation of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill should be treated with at least the same level of urgency as the short-notice imposition of the VAT increase.” These are the sentiments of The Organization for Responsible Governance, which is pushing for the drafted Fiscal Responsibility Bill (FRB) to be tabled and debated ahead of the customary parliamentary summer recess.
Citing the Minister of Finance’s original target of having the legislation in place ahead of this budget cycle the Organization urged the Government to move swiftly in having the legislation passed.
“Last year, Minister Turnquest committed to implementing ‘fiscal rules’ ahead of the 2018-2019 Budget Cycle to address issues of expenditure and financial management, and to bridge the trust-gap between the people and their government,” said Matt Aubry, ORG’s Executive Director. “We applaud that a Fiscal Responsibility Bill was introduced in March of this year and that time was allotted for review and feedback from the private sector, civil society, and the people. However, in keeping with the spirit of the Minister’s intentions to usher in a new era of fiscal discipline and accountability with the new budget, we hope to see the revised legislation tabled and debated in The House of Assembly in the coming weeks.”
Aubry stated that this is especially urgent given the added hardship of the VAT rise. “As the budget has, on relatively short notice, required a sacrifice from the Bahamian people in the way of higher taxes, it is only fair that the government match it with equal priority and swiftness in the implementation of a FRB to ensure the sound governance of this additional revenue.”
ORG also reiterated hopes that the new draft, which the Ministry of Finance has promised within the coming weeks, will include a codified system of penalties and/or incentives to rectify poor fiscal behaviour and encourage better financial management. In ORG’s Analysis of the Bill, the organization recommended more well defined penalties and sanctions for transgressions in fiscal management along with several suggestions to increase the efficacy and power of the Fiscal Council, an independent council comprised of private sector agents and subject matter experts to act as a watchdog.
“We are hoping to see in the new legislation that civil society feedback has been thoughtfully considered and incorporated, particularly ORG’s suggestions to strengthen the bill through the development of penalties and the reinforcement of the Fiscal Council. ORG’s analysis of the bill collected feedback from ORG expert committees, members, civil society partners, and members of the public and expresses the anxiety that many feel that the bill, if left without punitive measures, may end up unenforced like the Public Disclosure Act and other similar legislation.”
ORG also expressed lament over another piece of legislation whose timeline has over-extended original projections, the Freedom of Information Act.
“We had once hoped that this would be the last budget where Bahamians would not be able to request information using FOIA. We can safely assume now that this will not be the case, given that the bill is still not fully enacted and implementation timelines in other jurisdictions have often ranged between a year and a half and three years,” said Aubry.
“However, we remain encouraged by the $1 million allotted for FOIA in the 2018/19 budget and will be watching closely to track development on this important legislation. We appreciate that the Attorney General has stated publicly that this is a priority, and encourage continued collaboration with civil society and private industry to ensure this fundamental right.”